Last weekend was the second annual Solstice Tree Tour in Anchorage. The event raises money for the local ski association and brings thousands of people together to tour the festive ski trails.
“We are out at Kincaid park and we are here for the Solstice Tree Tour,” Tamra Kornfield, with the Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage, said. She’s standing in the park’s stadium in a crowd of people.
“A ton of people come out here– people who have never been out to these trails,” Kornfield said. “They get to walk the first half of the Mize loop and look at beautifully decorated trees by local businesses and then at the end the get to vote on their favorite.”
It’s a little after four in the afternoon and the sun has set, but the sky is still bright enough that you can see through the trees. The sky is a dark gray color.
People are bundled up in big coats, some parents dragging their kids in sleds or carrying the smaller ones in backpacks. You can spot a Santa hat every couple hundred feet.
The first tree on the tour is about five feet tall and it’s covered in poinsettias.
A pair of women with three young girls stop and to take in tree. One of the girls leans in to introduce herself.
“My name is Sadie,” she said. Sadie has ski poles and regular boots, not ski boots. That’s because under the light dusting of snow is a thick layer of ice. Some people even strapped microspikes to their boots.
Still though, the trails are teeming with people. And a lot of them have stopped at the hot chocolate and s’mores station.
“So right now I’m looking at a whole bunch of kids who are all under three feet tall,” Fiona Worcester explained.
“And their parents are helping them use fire to toast these marshmallows.” A parent corrected Worcester, saying her kid is 35-and-a-half inches talll. She knows that because she just took him to the pediatrician.
“Ok, so it looks like most of them are at least three feet tall,” Worcester said, laughing.
Worcester wasn’t all that eager to prep s’mores, too sticky she says, so instead she’s playing the ukulele, adding ambiance.
Along with hot chocolate for the kids, there’s beer and mulled wine for adults. If this sounds like a well-curated winter block party for the entire city of Anchorage, well, it sort of is.
You can tell the people who decorated the trees also had fun with it.
The next tree has ornaments, there are bow ties, but then there’s what looks like the back of a skier who has fallen and face planted inside of the tree.
It takes a group of women a few seconds before they, too realize what’s sticking out of the tree.
“Look at the skier, Marg,” the woman said, “That is hilarious.”
These trees are clever, like the one covered in musical instruments with a star of flutes on top, or another tilted sideways being carried away by a green, grimacing Grinch.
Back in the stadium Volunteer Marina Ramirez stands behind a table full of glass jars handing out jingle bells.
“We ask people to pick their favorite [tree] and then use a little jingle bell and put it in the jar that corresponds with that tree and then whoever has the most jingles wins,” Ramirez explained.
And what do they win?
“Glory and honor,” Ramirez joked.
That and an advertisement in the Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage newsletter.
In the end, the NSAA says a few thousand people came out for the event. Despite the lack of snow and little daylight, there was no shortage of holiday cheer.